Excerpt

She met Warren Bishop for the second time just after she started at Barnard, a little more than a year later. She ran into him outside the campus bookstore. She literally ran into him, crashing into him as she turned a corner and dropped her newly purchased books. He helped her pick them up, and for a moment, they looked at each other, unsure of how they knew the other. 

“Mr. Bishop? I think we met at my father’s funeral,” she finally said, and he nodded. “Of course, how could I forget young Ms. Schriever? I remember the lovely dress you wore. With all those buttons. Are you attending Barnard?”

He told her that he was giving a guest lecture on economic reform in the Baltic states at Columbia, and she said she was going to be late for sociology. Before turning to leave, he asked if she had plans for dinner. He said he was going to a place near campus at seven. “Perhaps you want to join me? They have excellent Osso Buco.”

She was casual in her acceptance, though she didn’t know what he wanted with her. She wondered if he was just being polite, taking his dead friend’s daughter out. She was new to the school, and he happened to be there, so why not get a free meal?

He was tall and handsome and very distinguished. He was in his early fifties, which made him a remarkably unknown entity. He was a few years older than her mother but a decade and a half younger than her father. Warren was an adult who spoke to her as a peer.

She asked him about the club the second time they went out. She didn’t think they were dates, but she didn’t exactly know how to classify them. Both times they went to very expensive restaurants, which was something Adeline loved to do. She’d never been to a fancy place without her mother or without her friends. It felt strange and forbidden to be there with the well-dressed man she didn’t really know a lot about.

That second time they had dinner, he wore a perfectly tailored black suit, and his hair was parted neatly in a way that made him look like a news anchor. It made her feel tiny and immature, though she reminded herself she was almost eighteen. She was going to one of the best colleges in the world. She was fluent in three languages, she was well-read and well-spoken.

Sitting across from a man who was almost three times her age, who was taking her out and charming her, felt wrong on some level, but at that point in her life, Adeline was very keen to do something bad. It was also a secret, and as a girl who grew up in a home full of secrets, it felt good to have one of her own.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you something, Warren. You mentioned that you knew my father from a club, which club would that be?”

He smiled, but didn’t answer. He looked at the wine menu for a bit and ordered a bottle of Sancerre and then steepled his fingers and looked at her intently.

“Ah, the club, yes. I was very young when your father left the club. Only a few years older than you, I think. It was tricky business. Have you heard about it at all? I wonder if anyone ever sat you down and told you the story.”

Adeline had heard rumors. Some big scandal. Back when Auggie was just a kid. It had been whispered that it was the reason his mother killed herself. Adeline thought it was an affair.

“I heard some gossip. Nothing specific.”

Warren nodded, tasting the wine, then pouring Adeline a glass. She relished the cold tart flavor. It reminded her of her trip to Paris the year before.

“What is this, Warren? I mean, I love this restaurant, but I’m just wondering why you want to have dinner with a college girl.”

He smiled again, his imperious smile.

“Why wouldn’t a man want to wine and dine a bright young girl? One who has charm and wit and the allure of youth. I don’t like to dine alone, so why not have someone pretty for dinner?”

She steadied herself. She didn’t want him to think he shocked her. She smiled back at him. “So, you’re trying to seduce me?” She asked, taking another sip.

He shrugged and chuckled. “I thought you were seducing me, I mean, with that dress and that shade of lipstick and your perfume. I certainly feel seduced.”

She squirmed under his gaze. She knew her dress was low cut. Her curves had filled out more than she expected over the summer. Frankly, her freshman 15 was more like 25, but his eyes on her neck, on her chest, made her cheeks warm.

“You’re older than my mother! I’m only seventeen!” She said, trying to laugh it off.

“I am. It’s horrible. It’s a terrible thing. Dirty and forbidden and outright wrong. Yet it’s all I can think about lately,” he said, his demeanor never changing. His low gravelly voice was hypnotic.

The waiter brought their appetizers. Foie gras and escargot and raw oysters. They didn’t speak as they tasted the tiny morsels. The foie gras was served with a thick red cherry reduction. She felt his eyes on her lips as she licked a drop of the sweetness off.

They fucked in a hotel room that night. It wasn’t her first time, but sex with a man was very different from sex with a fumbling boy. It was frightening and exhilarating, like nothing she’d done before. It was painful and at times his passion frightened her.

She woke up in bed at home, feeling like she was transported there. Her mother didn’t seem to know anything was different, but Adeline had a secret, finally, a secret of her own. That first night with him was all she could think about for days. She played every move they made over and over. Every kiss, every sound, every shocking detail.

She never got Warren’s phone number. She assumed he was married. He would wait for her near campus, reading the newspaper on a park bench. She would meet him, and they would sit there on the bench and talk like strangers. He would pretend to be one of her professors. He would pretend to offer her money to come to a hotel with him. Whatever he came up with, she challenged herself to play his game and match his daring.

It went on like that for a month. A month of wildness and passion and very little talking about what was happening. She never got any more answers about the club. For the first time in a long time, Adeline didn’t want to talk about anything, she just wanted action.

The last time she saw him on that bench, he was reading a book, a little leather-bound book. He put it away before she could ask him what it was. She wondered what game he might want to play that day, but when she sat down next to him, he gave her a somewhat serious look.

“You mentioned your mother was away. LA for a week?”

“My step-brother is very ill,” Adeline said, amazed that he was always able to find a new way to keep her off balance, to make her feel unprepared.

“I thought I might like to fuck you on your childhood bed,” he said, somewhat nonchalantly.

She had prided herself on being unflappable, to take his dirty games in stride, but she felt heat in her cheeks give her feeling away.

“I… um… okay,” she said, chiding herself for not having some sexy rejoinder.

In the cab, he didn’t look at her, but his hand found her knee, then her thigh. The anxiety and the desire he ignited in her frightened her.

Her bedroom felt small and silly, with him standing in the middle of it, in his suit, holding his briefcase. He seemed to judge her stuffed animals and predictable art.

“So this is where little Adeline grew up,” he said with a little chuckle, looking at her bookshelf. He nodded at the complete In Search of Lost Time in the original French.

“What were you like when you were a little girl? Were you shy?”

She scoffed. “No, I was serious. I was bossy.”

“You’re not bossy with me,” he said with a grin, and she flushed once more.

“I’m not a little girl anymore,” she said, but her voice cracked a little.

“Did you keep a diary?”

She nodded.

“What would you write? I think I’d like to know what you were like then,” he said, sitting at her desk and crossing his legs and waiting.

Not knowing what else to do, she went to her bookshelf and took a box from the top of it. It was an ornate black lacquered box her mother had brought back from Hong Kong. It had a key that she left in the lock. Inside were perhaps a dozen diaries of various sizes and shapes.

She plucked one and looked through it and then smiled.

“I’ve made a very important decision today. I’m taking back my name. My parents insist on calling me Ada, and I hate it. My name is Adeline. It’s a beautiful name. I looked it up, and it means ‘noble,’ and so I’m telling everyone that they have to call me Adeline from now on,” she read, closing the book and smiling at Warren.

He gave her a little round of applause, and she bowed.

“Well, Adeline, the noble. Bossy Adeline who is not at all a little girl anymore. I guess you are in charge. Tell me what I should do.”

She never got comfortable with him in her room. She didn’t like the game that day. She couldn’t fit her head around it. It didn’t have the playful forbiddenness they usually explored, just a sort of real wrongness.

She took a shower after and when she came out of the bathroom, she found him dressed and looking in her mirror, straightening his tie. He thanked her, kissed her on the cheek, and left.

She never saw him again.

It wasn’t until a week later that she noticed her diaries were gone.